Sunday, July 17, 2011

Surrender to Imagery

Imagery is descriptive language that not only engages the readers’ senses, but also evokes an emotional response. One of the most famous examples of imagery in poetry is probably the first line of Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” – The fog comes / on little cat feet.

I was pulled into a novel written by Sonya Hartnett this weekend and found myself alternately bobbing and sinking in an ocean of imagery. Some of the language literally caught my breath like the topmost hill of a roller coaster. Some of Ms. Hartnett’s images made me struggle to breathe. The story, Surrender, written in 2005 and awarded the Michael L. Prinz honor, has creeped into my head and seems to want to stay there, curled around the bulges and beating veins of my brain. Lurking like a snake. It is hiding among my own bits of story and snippets of words as if waiting for the right moment to make itself known in a new way.

The story is demanding and horrifying, inescapable and worthy of being shoved into a back corner of a high shelf when you are finished, just in case you feel the story calling to you another day. You will remember it. You will want to revisit the language, the story, and the images so brilliantly used by this writer. Most of all, it is human, this story. Full of contradictions, mysteries, and the honesty of lies told to oneself to keep the peace.

Here are some of the phrases, sentences and images that are echoing in my ears and keeping rhythm with the beating of my heart –

Page 15 – If my visitor walked away now he would seem like a daydream, like touching a tiger’s face in the dark.

Page 40 – His yellow smile – all of him is yellow – patrols the room like a lighthouse beam, falling on my sandy-beach aunt, on jagged-rocky-outcrop me, on the foaming blankets of the sea…

Page 159 – In this room, night is not black but gray. The door is gray, the walls are gray, the air itself is gray. Yet light skates goldenly round the door handle as it spins.

Page 165 – The sky above our heads dashed white with cockatoos.

Page 180 – The morning heat bulged and swore, trapped in the confines of the forest, a bully pinned furious to the ground.

Sort of exhausting, this story. Deep and treacherous and so beautiful. I was going to send it to a friend, but I think I’ll slide it onto the top shelf of my bookcase instead. I’ll keep it until another day when the images call to me again.


  1. It always nice to have a book like this handy for when you need a bit of inspiration. I'm sure you have bookmarks or post its marking your favorite passages for easy reference.

  2. I love imagery, too. And I underline the sentences that render me breathless while reading. Those are the books we''ll always remember ...

  3. As you know I love good imagery and wordplay. But this past week I read a book (which shall remain nameless) actually recommended by my wonderful stalwart local YA librarian that felt like the plot had been swallowed by a thesaurus. Every other line was some clever description of how X was like unexpected thing Y. I actually had to stop reading because I was drowning in simile and metaphor! First time that happened to me.
    So I guess balance of forward motion (plot) and description is the thing!